An old map lets you take a step back in time, revealing features of your woodland that might otherwise have been overlooked and explaining those mysterious lumps, bumps and hollows. Old maps can give tantalising glimpses into the history of the local landscape – water courses which have moved over the years, ponds which have been filled in, old roads, old paths and boundaries, agricultural and industrial buildings which now only exist as ruins.
Compare one map against another of a later series – how long has there been a wood there? How has it changed over time? This information is fascinating from a historical and archaeological point of view, but it can also be very useful in the management of your wood and generally getting to know it better. Take a look at the local place names too – these often give you clues as to who lived locally and what they did for a living.
Where to start? The local library will often be able to put you in touch with a local archivist or might hold material itself. Alternatively, the map departments of the National Library of Wales, the National Library of Scotland and Cambridge Library all have extensive collections and will photocopy extracts on request provided these are for your personal use. You don’t have to visit in person; they all provide a postal service for a modest fee for photocopying and postage.
Pre-war, the large scale, Ordnance Survey County Series in 25” to 1 mile (1:2500) scale are probably the most useful to you – plenty of detail. Note the 1:2500 scale does not cover remote areas with few features such as moorland or mountains, and 1:1250 (50 inches to the mile) is usually used for urban areas. These start from around the mid-19th century and are arranged by county and then by sheet number.
Post-war, the Ordnance Survey introduced the National Grid series which uses 1:10,000 for rural and moorland areas, and 1:2500 and 1:1250 for more populated areas. The National Grid is a single grid system that covers the whole of Great Britain.
Ordering a map from a library is quite simple – all you need is an OS National Grid reference and let them know what period you are interested in. Get your grid reference either by checking your modern OS Landranger map, or put a place name or postcode into Get-a-Map on the OS website. If you can, it’s worth sending a photocopy of the area you are interested in just in case it falls across more than one sheet.
Apart from their usefulness, old maps are of course attractive items in themselves and look lovely in a frame on the wall at home. Old-maps.co.uk sell map extracts online which they will frame for you, and there are many map dealers who may be able to turn up an original for you, or you may be able to find one yourself in a second-hand book shop or on eBay!